The Bwcabus debate in mid and west Wales has opened up a can of worms about the constant and deliberate unfunding of public services, and what can be imposed on local residents without consultation. Cardigan-based Buzz correspondent Julia Deli reports on the campaign, from the position of an involved party.
Shock and outrage greeted Senedd member Lee Water’s announcement on Sun 1 Oct that dozens of the most rural bus routes in the counties of Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire were to be pulled, with the closure of the Fflecsi and Bwcabus services following at the end of that month. These regular services had run for 15 years, connecting far-flung villages to main routes and, as per the name, including an element of flexibility – allowing those beyond even villages to call a dial-up service to get them to a bus.
New rolling stock and logos had just been purchased, bewildering people still further. Former Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion, Cynog Dafis, had originally lobbied for the Objective One money that kicked off this rural transport initiative, but post-Brexit – with budgets slashed at Westminster and Cardiff alike – axing services that help these communities function has been to much regional detriment.
Constituents persuaded Elin Jones to call a last-minute public meeting at Bro Teifi School, Llandysul. Here, 100 attendees crammed into the tiny midweek schoolroom, and every Senedd member was present via Zoom to watch another rural test case.
Moving testimony was heard from Bwcabus users. Some would now not be able to get to work; many relied on the services to travel, and battle loneliness or depression into the bargain. One 17-year-old student with epilepsy stated that she didn’t know whether she or her sister – a fellow sufferer, each unable to drive due to their medical conditions – would be able to continue to work or attend college.
Councillors were strong in their support, calling for an Impact Assessment, exhorting us to go to the steps of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay, and promising meetings. “It was a shoddy decision, made in haste,” said Mid and West Wales Member Cefin Campbell. “Isolation and loneliness are becoming a huge problem in rural areas.” The BBC and S4C filmed the meeting, the latter’s report following a story about travel company Arriva using the 20mph trial ‘slowdowns’ to cut services in north Wales which could “no longer connect”.
Taking the petition out on the street, many have observed that the handling of this issue has showed little awareness of green thinking or the vaunted ‘Future Generations’, forcing people out of homes and work or to greater reliance on cars. The overwhelming majority of passersby who signed talked passionately about a desire to fight for public services, joining the dots as we all increasingly are; the issue has grown into an unexpected ‘call to arms’, so to speak, in this region of Wales.
The Petitions Committee subsequently called a meeting of all Senedd members on Mon 27 Nov, to discuss future funding and the unexpectedly passionate response from voters. Some supporters are set to be in attendance on the day. Councillor Keith Henson – responsible for transport-related matters in Ceredigion Council – pledged his support, agreeing, “It’s the usual urban view on rural lives, on Ceredigion’s lack of ‘chimneypots’”: despite everything, it’s been rewarding to have joined-up conversations with local representatives on many linked issues because of the depth of feelings over the Bwcabus.
Without a viable transport network – one used all year round by workers, students, travellers, visitors, pensioners and in Summer by tourists and caravan-owners too – the rural lifestyle is undermined, and inevitably exclusive. Signatories’ comments included, “They can afford new Assembly members and constituencies, but not THIS for US!” and “They’re leaving the elderly to die housebound”. Emotive statements from a spectrum of age, income and political allegiance suggests we are united by trauma and economic strictures.
Letting our representatives know our feelings – and ‘trying them out’, to see if they mean what they say – the Bwcabus advocates intend to continue to fight for rural inclusion, and to get services reinstated. One can dream, too, that those in power may eventually get out of the dazzling headlights of top-down monoculture and link arms again, for mutual benefit and the common good.
The ‘Save our fflecsi Bwcabus service’ petition can be found here.
words JULIA DELI